Duck hunting and waterfowl habitat management are among the many uses and functions of Florida waterbodies. Most ducks in Florida are migratory, flying into the state for the winter from as far away as northernmost Canada and Alaska. The state's many wetland habitats, abundance of wintering ducks and number of public hunting areas make Florida an ideal place for this sport. Aquatic bird game species include ducks, rails, snipes, coots, moorhen, geese and other resident and migratory birds.
Waterfowl Hunting in Florida
A large number of Florida hunters are bird hunters. They contribute a significant amount of the total revenue generated by hunting. Each year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service promotes the Federal Duck Stamp Program that raises about $25 million annually for wetland conservation.
Ducks are particularly reclusive and wary, needing quiet, undisturbed aquatic habitat for resting, feeding and breeding. Government agencies work to protect duck populations while also keeping duck hunters satisfied. Aquatic plant management also considers the needs of ducks and duck hunters. Before any aquatic plant control is conducted, the presence of waterfowl is determined and the needs of hunters are considered.
To identify ducks and other aquatic game birds and migratory waterfowl in Florida, and to find information on the rules, regulations, seasonal restrictions and fees required, visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's waterfowl hunting web site.
Duck Population Trends in Florida
Millions of ducks and other migratory birds winter in Florida. Several factors can contribute to declines in duck populations in Florida. Migratory populations are affected by habitat loss to agriculture and development, and by drought or other climate changes in the northern U.S. and Canada. Development in Florida wetlands and along the shores of lakes and rivers also impact habitat and population numbers. Habitat loss is likely the single greatest threat to duck populations in the United States.
Ducks and Hydrilla
Aquatic plants play important roles for ducks. However there are some misconceptions as to what types of aquatic plants are the most beneficial.
Ducks consume a variety of aquatic and wetland plants, including eelgrass (Vallisneria spp.), pondweeds (Potamogeton spp.), duck potato (Sagittaria spp.) and other native aquatic plants. Their diets vary according to what food is available.
When non-native hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata) was introduced, it quickly invaded Florida's waters, quickly reducing and sometimes displacing native food sources. When a historic duck lake has been infested by hydrilla, and there is no other food source available, ducks will eat hydrilla leaves, turions and tubers. This does not mean that ducks prefer hydrilla, or that hydrilla should be allowed to grow unchecked for the benefit of ducks.
Aquatic Food Plants Preferred by Ducks
Wetland plants are very important to the diets of American wigeon, ring-necked ducks, redheads, gadwalls, rails, mallards, pintails, wood ducks and canvasbacks, whistling ducks, green- and blue-winged teal, coots, moorhen, soras, Canada geese, snow geese, greylag geese, and others.
Floating and Floating-Leaved
|Ceratophyllum, Chara, Najas, Potamogeton, Ruppia, Utricularia, and Vallisneria||Carex, Cladium, Crinum, Cyperus, Distichlis Echinochloa, Eleocharis, Eriocaulon, Fimbrystilis, Juncus, Leersia, Panicum, Paspalum, Phragmites, Polygonum, Pontederia, Rhynchospora, Sacciolepis, Scirpus, Spartina, Typha, Xyris, Zizaniopsis and Zizania||Brasenia, Lemna, Nelumbo, Nymphaea, Spirodela, and Wolffia|
Aquatic Plant Management and Duck Hunting
Duck hunting and aquatic plant management are closely aligned. In areas frequented by waterfowl, invasive plant control strategies are designed to be compatible with waterfowl-related activities and management activities are planned around duck-hunting season, selectively managing for certain plant species.
On Lake Okahumpka and other prime duck-hunting lakes in Florida, duck hunters participate in developing management plans. For example, floating tussocks, cattails (Typha spp.) and other aggressive native plants are managed to maintain open water refuges for ducks while keeping some areas densely vegetated so both ducks and hunters have cover. Plant managers sometimes manage native nuisance plants, as well as non-native invasive species, to encourage native plant diversity and restore ecosystem health.
Hydrilla also is managed to retain some hydrilla for duck food while allowing native submersed food plants to recolonize. Ideally, hydrilla is kept under maintenance control so ducks have the native food plants on which they thrived before the introduction of hydrilla.
Timing of Aquatic Plant Management for Ducks and Duck Hunters
When possible, managers avoid hydrilla control in public waters immediately before or during duck hunting season. This reduces disturbance to ducks and avoids altering vegetative landmarks that have been used to scout duck-hunting areas prior to start of the season. When possible, hydrilla control activities are delayed until duck hunting season concludes.
However, Florida public lakes and rivers provide multiple functions such as flood control, potable water use, irrigation and navigation. Occasionally, hydrilla control may be necessary during duck hunting season for emergencies or to prevent large infestations, especially pioneering hydrilla populations, from expanding beyond cost-effective control.
Timing of all aquatic plant management activities is coordinated with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to ensure the greatest degree of compatibility with all uses and function of each public waterbody.